American goldfinch relish native vegetation and thistle seed. (Roz Schrank/Special to The Plain Dealer).
by James M. McCarty
It’s my little slice of Heaven, my own private nature preserve, my escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
It’s my backyard, a plot of native shrubs, trees and wildflowers skirted by a deer-proof fence and surrounded by towering oaks, maples and pines.
And it’s surprisingly birdy for an urban setting in Cleveland’s Kamm’s Corners neighborhood, but blessed by its proximity to the Rocky River Reservation located across the busy street – a testament to my belief that if you provide food and native vegetation, the birds will come.
American robins are common thrush, but welcome additions to any backyard habitat. (Roz Schrank/Special to The Plain Dealer)
When I arrived two years ago, the backyard was a blank slate of grass.
I immediately started digging swaths of gardens and planting: a red oak, wild black and choke cherries, dogwood shrubs, serviceberry, spice bush, purple and prairie coneflower, New England aster, butterfly and swamp milkweed, goldenrod, bee balm, trumpet honeysuckle, Virginia creeper, cardinal flower, and wild blue lobelia.
I enhanced the bird-friendly flora with banks of seed, suet and hummingbird feeders, plus three wren houses.
For the first time this spring, I offered a banquet of sliced oranges, and Ashley Heeney whipped up a batch of bird chow we discovered at feeding stations in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas: a concoction of suet, peanut butter and corn meal.
Pileated woodpeckers are expanding their territories and sometimes show up at backyard feeders. (Chuck Slusarczyk Jr./Special to The Plain Dealer).
The results have been just short of spectacular. Up to five Baltimore orioles at a time gobbled the oranges.
And after they left, red-bellied woodpeckers replaced them at the slices – an identical phenomenon to one described online by Lorain County Metro Parks naturalist Tim Fairweather.
The bird chow, slathered into a feeding log constructed by my son Kyle, continues to be a hit with the hairy, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers.
What a thrill it was last week when I surprised a pileated woodpecker on the feeding block.
Robins regularly feed underneath, picking up the crumbs that drop to the ground.